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Subdivision, retail plans show hope in economy
Shopping center would include 568,000 square feet
Construction is still in the early phases at a site on Dawsonville Highway near Beechwood Boulevard as crews level a hillside to make way for a commercial development that includes two restaurants. The local economy is showing signs of life with recent development, new stores and planned subdivisions in Hall County.

Hall County is seeing a trickling of new retail and home developments, and this is just the beginning, officials say.

Last week, Gainesville officials considered a 16-lot subdivision on Lake Lanier, and county officials approved a 50-lot subdivision with boat storage, some of the first subdivisions proposed in recent memory. With retail construction on Dawsonville Highway near McEver Road and other new stores and restaurants opening in the county, development is showing a small uptick.

"Also with the new public safety building, we'll see a spillover effect from that," said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville's planning director. "The current public safety building will be vacated and torn down, which will give the City View Center developers an open space. And when the Municipal Court moves into the new public safety building, that property will be redeveloped."

A larger retail project is on the horizon for 2012 as well. The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is studying a development that could have a regional impact, beyond just Hall County.

The proposal by Carolina Holdings developers of Greenville, S.C., would bring a retail shopping center to the corner of Limestone and Jesse Jewell parkways along White Sulphur Road.

The shopping center, dubbed New Holland Market, would include 568,000 square feet of retail, office, restaurant and movie theater space with 2,400 parking spots. Eight adjacent parcels are proposed for potential hotel, office and restaurant use.

The regional commission received final details about the proposal in early October, and Ligon expects to hear the findings in December or January. The final decision would fall on City Council members, and construction would start around 2012, Ligon said.

"This speaks to the fact that there is still activity out there and commercial development is vibrant," said Randy Knighton, Hall County's planning director. "We have a lot to offer with the lake, mountains and Atlanta not far away. This certainly provides some seeds of optimism for the future."

Despite a still depressed housing market, niche ideas for home development are working, said Frank Norton Jr. of The Norton Agency real estate company.

The subdivisions proposed last week are examples of this targeted demographic mentality, he said.

"It's micromarkets or microniches. There are still some opportunities opening up for specific price points of homes in certain locations," he said. "There's a five-month supply of homes on Lake Lanier with boat docks under $500,000 and a 12-year supply over $1 million. There's also less than an eight-month supply of homes under $150,000 not on the lake."

Developers must focus on certain markets to invest money wisely, he said.

"Keen developers are focusing in with a scope rather than using the shotgun approach of the past and scattering all over," he said. "We're seeing a change in consumer patterns with less luxury goods. We'll continue to eat out but will get value-priced meals."

As the economy recovers, consumers are stretching their dollar as much as possible.

"The word ‘affordable' is perhaps being misused, but people want affordable lake property, retail, cars, clothing and deals out," Norton said. "We are moving toward a time when we have average people with average credit and average jobs and average houses and average goods and services. There are more average people than the super rich or super poor."

At Thursday's work session, City Council members also discussed the benefits that Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle could bring to development in Gainesville. Council members plan to draft a list of capital improvements that could help the area.

"Gainesville is in a unique position, and we should realize the benefits that local government and communities get from having a person in those authority positions," Councilman Bob Hamrick said. "I'm sure there will be different groups going and asking for assistance, and the local government should take the initiative to go downtown and have a common voice about a prioritized list that would benefit the community for years to come."